April 27th, 2008


There is sweet music here

So it's a concert weekend, one of the most unusual in my experience.

The program is Carmina Burana, as I've mentioned, but it's not just any old Carmina: it's part of Stanford's annual Pan-Asian Music Festival, and we're performing with a dance troupe from China. I've never accompanied dance before, and it really changes the experience -- we've had to speed up several movements, and keeping time is even more important than usual. Also, the dancers are distracting! I kept having to remind myself to watch the conductor, not the dancing.

At the same time, we're getting used to a different conductor. When we sang this piece back in February, our usual conductor was at the helm, so we'd gotten very used to his tempos, his breaks, his style. So working with any new person would be a challenge, but it's always especially difficult to adjust to an orchestral conductor. We've performed with this particular man before, and I like him fairly well, but it's not the same. In my experience, most orchestra conductors don't have the same understanding of how taxing it is to stand and sing for an hour, how frustrating it is to stop and start a lot, what the limitations of the human body and voice are. (Not that these things aren't issues for instrumentalists; I know, I was in band for several years. But it's not the same -- instrumentalists get to sit, for the most part, and there isn't the same physical issue of having to protect your voice.) So they make you stand for too long, and if you ask to sit down they over-correct and let you get away with sitting when you really should stand (standing up straight is by far the best posture for good vocal production).

Last but not least, we're in a venue that none of us have ever performed in before. Having to figure out how to get on and off stage, how to arrange ourselves on different risers, how to deal with lights that are either so low that we can't read our music or so bright that we're all fainting from heat exhaustion by the end (I'm not kidding, either, tonight a woman sitting near me had to sit down while someone else fanned the back of her neck with their music folder). On the other hand, we had microphones for the first time ever, and that was pretty awesome -- one of the problems with singing Carmina is that the orchestra tends to play over the chorus, but mics can correct that balance without us having to scream or the instrumentalists being forced to hold back.

Put all that together, and you have a fairly grueling concert week, even as concert weeks go. First rehearsal with the new maestro on Monday, technical dress rehearsal with the dancers while everyone figures out lights and sound levels and where the heck everyone is going to fit on the stage on Thursday, run-through dress this morning and performance tonight. Having a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal on the same day as the concert is particularly tiring, especially when there's just not quite enough time between for it to be worth going home between them for me. So I had a leisurely lunch with D, poked around a couple of stores, and then set up in a Panera for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the Panera I found was not nearly as comfortable for writing and coffee as the one near my house -- not enough booths, the music too loud, too-small tea selection. Oh well, live and learn.

The concert itself went well, except for the minor gaffe of the conductor forgetting a verse in one of the soprano solos. She sang the first verse, everyone paused for the second verse, the pause went on a little too long, and then the conductor cued the next movement instead. Being the good ensemble musicians we are, we followed his lead (first rule of choral singing: do what the conductor asks of you, and do it all together, even if you think it's a mistake), and the dancers quickly composed themselves into place and picked up only a few measures late. Who knows if the audience noticed. Tomorrow's debriefing should be interesting, at least.

But despite that -- and to be fair, this is one of the worst conductor errors I've ever experienced in a concert setting -- it really was a good performance. The singing felt good, the dancers were beautiful (what I could see of them), and the crowd was appreciative. Of course, it was Carmina; the crowd is always appreciative. Still, it's a good feeling. Even if my feet are still really, really unhappy with me.

And now to bed, so I can rest up for doing it all again tomorrow (well, the performance part; no rehearsal involved at least), and then I am done with Carmina Burana for awhile. A good thing, much as I love the piece. Four times in three months is a lot of times to sing one work. It'll be nice to get to sing something else for a change.
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Concerts survived

Today's show went really well. It might even be the best I've ever felt about a performance. In the top ten, for sure.

And now I get a couple of weeks off from singing, which is good because I really need to recover, before we do it all again at the end of May (although that should be a little less hectic, and I'd better not still have this cold in a month).

Off to drink lots of water and put my feet up for a bit...